Skip to Content

search | MENU Menu/Site Map
Houston Area Traditional Dance Society

Houston Area Traditional Dance Society

What is Contra Dance?

Contra dancing is social interaction, meeting people, and making new friends, set to music. The rest is just details.

Here are a few of those details:

Word CloudContra dance is a type of American social dancing with roots in English, Scottish, and Irish traditions. It goes back to the Colonial period; many of our founding fathers and mothers, most notably George and Martha Washington, did contra dance.

The basic formation, called a set, is two long lines of couples with partners standing across from each other. A caller teaches the figures of each dance before it begins, then prompts the dancers the first several times through the dance.

Couples dance the figures with the couple next to them. They then leave that couple and move to the next couple in the set, repeating the same figures with the new couple. This progression from one couple to the next is repeated several times over the span of the dance so that each couple and each person dances with everyone else in their set—and the sets can be the length of the hall.

Hall full of dancers
Each longways set is divided into groups of two adjacent couples as the dancers take "hands four from the top" and wait for the caller's instructions.

No lessons are required, as each individual dance is taught before it begins. Plus, there are only about 20 moves to learn.

We always dance to live music. There is simply no substitute for the energy of a live band and for the interplay between the musicians and the dancers.

Ladies at Play

The environment is smoke-free, alcohol-free, fragrance-free, safe, and family-friendly. This is a community dance, similar to the barn dances of bygone days.

Up the hall four across!

The video below, from the Portland, ME contra dance community, is an excellent introduction to the joy of contra dance.

And this one is an excellent history of contra dancing.

More questions? See our Contra FAQ and Why Fragrance Free? pages.

I've never seen so many smiles in one place! ~ a new Houston dancer